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Roots of Revolution: Thomas Paine Nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense (Political Science 565)

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Presentation on theme: "Roots of Revolution: Thomas Paine Nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense (Political Science 565)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Roots of Revolution: Thomas Paine Nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense (Political Science 565)

2 Causes of Revolution Economic exploitation by England – Taxation, forcible quartering of soldiers, violation of property rights Legal domination – British soldiers to be tried only in England, forced alteration of MA charter, restriction of town meetings Governmental oppression – Colonies have no say in taxation, diminished voice in own govt 2

3 Thomas Paine B. Feb , Thetford, England Arrives in American colonies 1774 Common Sense: 1776 Rights of Man: 1790, supporting French Revolution, elected to National Convention, imprisoned by Robespierre 1793 Age of Reason: 1794, 1795, 1807 Returns to US 1803 Dies

4 Common Sense January, 1776 Massively influential – Before its publication, about 1/3 of American colonials supported the break from Britain, 1/3 opposed, and 1/3 were undecided – After, it was closer to 2/3 in favor of Revolution Focused strongly on the containment of governmental power – Reason vs. passion, tradition 4

5 Common Sense Against the power of tradition & emotion: Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. (section 1) 5

6 Common Sense Against the power of tradition & emotion: The prejudice of Englishmen, in favor of their own government by king, lords, and commons, arises as much or more from national pride than reason. 6

7 Common Sense Against the power of tradition & emotion: The will of the king is as much the law of the land in Britain as in France, with this difference, that instead of proceeding directly from his mouth, it is handed to the people under the most formidable shape of an act of parliament. For the fate of Charles the First, hath only made kings more subtle not more just. 7

8 Common Sense Against the power of tradition & emotion: Wherefore, laying aside all national pride and prejudice in favor of modes and forms, the plain truth is, that it is wholly owing to the constitution of the people, and not to the constitution of the government that the crown is not as oppressive in England as in Turkey. (section 2) 8

9 Common Sense Against the influence of interest & bias: – Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offence, yet I am inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation, may be included within the following descriptions: Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men who cannot see; prejudiced men who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent than all the other three. (sect. 4) 9

10 Common Sense Against the power of tradition & emotion: – Disinterested reason should be the guide to political action In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on, or rather that he will not put off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day. (section 4) 10

11 Common Sense Reason is believed to be – Impartial & unbiased – A method of reaching universal & definitive truth All rational individuals will agree – Comprehensible by anyone not blinded by passion or bias, regardless of social station (common sense) Rationality as freedom What do we do with irrational people? – Inherently democratic Thus, it is for Paine the source of just political authority – The sole reliable means of accessing truth Not an opinion – The revolutionary potential of the claim to new truth – Reason as totalized social critique 11

12 Common Sense Whats so bad about kings? (section 3) – The State of Nature as tool of criticism A government must not make things worse than they are in the State of Nature if they are to deserve compliance 12

13 State of Nature MANKIND being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich, and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having recourse to the harsh, ill-sounding names of oppression and avarice. – Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches; and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy. 13

14 State of Nature But there is another and greater distinction for which no truly natural or religious reason can be assigned, and that is, the distinction of men into KINGS and SUBJECTS. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind. (Sect. 3) 14

15 Whats so bad about kings? The Bible, often used as a source of legitimacy by kings, is in fact anti-monarchical Samuel vs. a King for Israel (1 Samuel 8) – God & Samuel oppose (only God is king) – People demand king – Taxation, war, oppression the costs of kingship Capturing the past Thus, kingship is purely a human creation, no more inherently valid or necessary than any other. 15

16 Common Sense Whats so bad about kings? Hereditary succession is both unjust and impractical – Gives an ass in place of a lion for future generations (bad successors) – causes kings to think of themselves as a race apart, corrupts them – Puts the throne in hands of child or a (likely corrupt) regent – Instead of protecting against civil wars, HS promotes them. Would-be rulers can only come to power by force 16

17 Common Sense Why is independence necessary? (sect. 4) – England is violently oppressive, exploiting America for the good of England – England is too far away to govern America effectively, even if it wanted to. – Being a part of the British Empire will inevitably involve America in unnecessary imperial conflicts. 17

18 Common Sense By grounding political authority in reason, Paine is able to make a persuasive argument undermining the foundations of British government, which is based in tradition, religion, and custom. – I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the doctrine of separation and independence; I am clearly, positively, and conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this continent to be so; that every thing short of that is mere patchwork, that it can afford no lasting felicity,- that it is leaving the sword to our children, and shrinking back at a time, when, a little more, a little farther, would have rendered this continent the glory of the earth. (sect. 4) 18

19 Common Sense What is the basis of just government? – Paine quotes Dragonetti: The science of the politician consists in fixing the true point of happiness and freedom. Those men would deserve the gratitude of ages, who should discover a mode of government that contained the greatest sum of individual happiness, with the least national expense. Not – National pride – Custom – Religion 19

20 Common Sense Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness Positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. – The true end of government is security. (sect. 2) – To what extent are govt & society analytically separable? 20

21 Common Sense What is the basis of just government? – Freedom – Happiness – Efficiency 21

22 Common Sense How does Paine propose to achieve this? – Commerce – Local government with weak central government – Religious toleration – Rule of Law 22

23 Common Sense Commerce will lead to peace and prosperity: Our plan is commerce, and that, well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship of all Europe; because it is the interest of all Europe to have America a free port. Her trade will always be a protection, and her barrenness of gold and silver secure her from invaders. (sect. 4) 23

24 Common Sense Local government with weak central government (sect. 5) Each colony equally represented Each colony retains sovereignty Weak executive (needs 60% congressional approval to pass laws) Continental Charter, guaranteeing political freedom, property, freedom of religion 24

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26 Common Sense Religious toleration (sect. 5) As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith… Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children of the same family 26

27 Common Sense Rule of Law (sect. 5) Let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is. A government of our own is our natural right. 27

28 Common Sense American exceptionalism: – The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. 'Tis not the affair of a city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent of at least one eighth part of the habitable globe. 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now. (sect. 1) The city on a hill & cause of all humanity 28

29 Common Sense Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS of MANKIND and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA. (sect. 6) – What does it mean to define your cause as that of all humanity? 29

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